Phillies Update: Manuel’s Contract, Utley’s Knee and the Outfield

Having been down to Clearwater earlier this week, and getting a good look at the team, it is very obvious that they are looking overall pretty sharp. The Phillies pitchers have not been perfect this spring but at the same time, they look pretty good. It is clear that they are working on things and fine tuning some pitches so there is really no need to worry about that aspect of the team. The three concerns for the Phillies this spring have been Manuel’s deal, Utley’s knee and the outfield situation.

Manuel certainly has reason to smile in light of his new contract.

Charlie Manuel, the 67-year-old Phillies skipper, has a brand new contract with the team. It was announced early Thursday and really only seemed like a matter of time. The contract will keep Manuel in Philly through 2013 and will pay him $3.5-4 million annually including a raise for this upcoming season. The contract will take Manuel into his 70’s where he can decide whether or not he wants to stay in the game. Manuel’s deal will now place him in the top-tier of managers as far as salary and that is where he belongs. Fans might say “why were the Phils so worried about paying that price”, but they have to understand that the Phillies have never paid this much for a manager, but at the same time, this team could be the best Phillies team of all time and that will certainly depend a great deal on their quality skipper. Manuel certainly played his cards right. He never wanted this to be a distraction going into the season and with this new contract in place, there is one issue to check off the list.

Amongst the other issues is 2nd basemen Chase Utley. Utley is 32 years old and is facing Patellar Tendonitis in his right knee. The reckless play that Phillies’ fans have come to adore Utley for, may finally be catching up to him. The injury has kept Utley off the field all spring training, relegating him to only batting practice. In my time in Florida, all I saw of Utley was batting practice and picking up balls and bats afterwards. He certainly seemed in a somber mood and that could definitely be a bad sign. He has not reacted positively to the cortisone shot he received and now there seems to be some bone inflammation. The team continues to insist that surgery is a last resort, but as the days go by it seems more and more likely. Utley will most likely start the season on the disabled list and surgery could either end his season or he could play through the pain and almost certainly see a major dip in production.

Utley has patellar tendonitis which has kept him out of all grapefruit league games.

The Phillies have internal options to replace Utley if need be. Wilson Valdez filled in admirably last year at a couple of spots and is capable of stepping in for Utley at 2nd. He has shown some good fielding this spring but his bat will not replace Utley’s stat for stat. Another option is Delwyn Young. The Phillies have given him a couple starts at 2nd this spring. He has shown some ability and definitely has a shot at a bench spot. Pete Orr was signed by the team this offseason and will also be a candidate.

If the internal options do not work, the team could explore a deal for disgruntled Texas Ranger, Michael Young. Young has requested a trade and the Phillies have popped up as potential suitors in numerous reports. A Phillies package would almost certainly involve dealing Joe Blanton and his $8.5 million annual salary although the team has insisted on keeping Blanton. Texas is short on starting pitching. Young would be closer to Utley as far as plate production than the internal options but what would the Phillies do if Utley is ready to return later in the season. Having Utley, Polanco and Young could certainly pose a problem. Although this seems farfetched, the Phillies have certainly surprised fans before (Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Lee again).

In addition to being a great acting duo, Utley and Howard have been one of the league's best #3, #4 combinations.

Utley’s absence will be most obvious in the lineup alignment. If any two spots were set in stone, they were Utley at 3 and Howard at 4. Howard will definitely not see many good pitches with Utley out and with Werth gone. With Utley out, a new #3 has to be found. The candidates will include Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino. My vote however, would be for Ben Francisco.

Francisco has undoubtedly won the right field job. He won it even before Dominic Brown’s injury but now it is all but certain. Francisco could be a decent option in the 3 spot because of his combination of pop and speed. He is more than capable of taking the ball deep and can get on base and swipe a bag if need be.

In other outfield news, John Mayberry is making a strong case for a roster spot. Mayberry is 27 and is at that age where it is becoming time to make the major league club. He has been great this spring hitting .286 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, and 4 rbis. A righty outfielder with that kind of pop is something the fans felt the team needed to acquire all off-season and it looks like they already had it in the fold all along.

John Mayberry is having an impressive spring and seems to be in line for a spot on the big league club.

These 3 issues certainly will not be the only ones that occupy the team this season since its only March and a meaningful game is yet to be played, but at least two of them seemed to be taken care of. The fate of Chase Utley’s 2011 is still up in the air.

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